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Originally published Sunday, July 27, 2014 at 6:15 AM

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Big family is drifting apart? So do something about it

Dear Carolyn column


Syndicated columnist

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Dear Carolyn

Hi, Carolyn:

I am 44 with five children, 12, 11, 10, 7, 6. I am the youngest of four siblings. All of my brother’s and sisters’ children are 16-32, some with children of their own. My dad passed away about four years ago and everyone sort of went their own way, even though we all live within 15 miles of each other.

My nephew is getting married on New Year’s Eve. They are inviting 80 people, but kids are not allowed. The wedding is in the evening and takes away from my own family traditions.

I am very hurt my children are not invited. My children were so excited they were going to a family wedding, but I had to tell them they were not invited.

I was thinking of just going to the wedding and then heading home to celebrate with my own family. We have our own celebration with a fun dinner menu along with fireworks.

Do you have any advice?

— Aunt’s Feelings Are Hurt

DEAR AUNT’S FEELINGS ARE HURT: I can see why you’re so disappointed. It’s not just that your kids are excluded from a wedding they’d hoped to attend, but your family is drifting apart. Those are two kinds of bad news.

Bad news doesn’t have to be the last word on this, though — and you’re in complete control of what that last word can be.

Specifically, instead of making this about a wedding, or about your siblings, you can make it even more important: You can make it about raising your kids well, which is surely the most important thing in your world right now.

To that end, you can model for your kids a great way of handling disappointment: by not taking things personally. “I know you’re sad about the wedding, and I’m sad too. But couples have a lot of things to juggle when they’re planning a wedding, like where to have it and how much to spend and whom to include or exclude, since they can’t have everyone. Most of these decisions aren’t personal, and it’s not that they love all these adults more than they love you.”

And, you can teach them flexibility: You love your New Year’s tradition but, if it’s not feasible for you to get home in time for it, you can show your kids what it looks like to live without it. “Things come up sometimes that we can’t control. We’ll do our thing next year, but this year we need to go to Plan B.” Then you invite your kids to help you figure out a kid-pleasin’, precedent-bustin’, EPIC Plan B as a family.

If you have any doubts on the value of this one, please recall all the times people struggle in this space with their family’s expectations: “I want to spend Christmas with my family but my boyfriend has never missed a Christmas with his folks” or “I’m broke and exhausted and can’t face the long flight home, but my family is freaking out that I’m skipping Thanksgiving” or etc. Having traditions is wonderful and important, but showing kids that family love transcends tradition is ... transcendent.

Now, you can also send your regrets and not go to the wedding. But that would shortchange both you and your kids of a fine opportunity to address the bigger issue than your kids’ exclusion.

Your family is drifting, and you’re sad about that, so do something about it. Since pushing back on the wedding will only accelerate the family’s dispersal, open your arms and pull in: Go to the wedding without your kids and with a smile, and then do one better.

Tell the couple your kids are excited about the marriage and want to invite them over for a celebratory dinner. Have your kids help prepare and serve the meal. Do this after the wedding so it doesn’t appear to be a ploy for an invitation — but don’t wait that long to reach out to your extended family in other ways.

In other words, turn this narrow exclusion into inspiration for a broader view of inclusion. Your kids, and you, stand to carry away from it a lot more than memories of a long pew sit followed by overdressed adults gabbing around a buffet.

DEAR CAROLYN: How do you have a non-awkward conversation with a past crush?

— A.

DEAR A.: You don’t, because trying not to be awkward just piles it on — as everyone has figured out the hard way who has ever tried to be smooth, right?

If it helps, make the decision not to treat awkwardness as the worst possible outcome. It often feels that way to the awkward person, but to everyone else it tends to range from not noticeable to mildly annoying to outright charming. So, just say what you’re going to say, in all its tic-infested glory. Whatcha gonna do.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com and follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax. Find her columns daily at www.seattletimes.com/living



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